Astonishing new research into the frequency of climate-induced disasters reveals children worldwide will experience up to 24 times more extreme weather events in their lifetimes, compared to older generations, unless drastic action to curb emissions is taken.
Launched ahead of global climate talks in Glasgow, Save the Children’s Born into The Climate Crisis report, reveals the devastating impact the climate crisis will have on children and their rights if nations do not work together to limit warming to 1.5C as a matter of the greatest urgency.
In Australia, children born in 2020 can expect to experience four times as many heatwaves, three times as many droughts, as well as 1.5 times as many bushfires and river floods, under current trajectory of global emissions.
A baby born last year in Papua New Guinea will face 10 times as many heatwaves and double the risk of fires as their elders, while children in Vanuatu - already recovering from a barrage of devastating cyclones - will face new challenges including nearly three times as many droughts.
This major report is based on new modelling led by researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel which reveals that under Paris Agreement pledges, a child born in 2020 will experience on average: twice as many bushfires; almost three times as many crop failures; two and half times as many droughts; three times as many river floods; and seven times more heatwaves in their lifetime compared to Baby Boomers born in the 60s.
On the flipside, the data shows enormous positive impacts for children if governments drastically accelerate their efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. The lifetime exposure of newborns to heatwaves could be reduced by 45%, droughts by 39%, river floods by 38%, crop failures by 28%, and wildfires by 10%.
Projected frequency of disasters for babies born in 2020 (based on Paris Agreement pledges commitments) *:
- 18 times as many heatwaves in Afghanistan, 12 times as many in Cambodia, 10 times as many in Iraq and Iran and PNG, and 5 times as many in the UK
- 24 times as many floods in Eritrea and 10 times as many floods in Myanmar, Nigeria and Cambodia.
- 15 times as many droughts in Sierra Leone and 13 times as many in Bhutan
- Twice as many fires in Turkey, Slovenia, Slovakia, Portugal and Papua New Guinea.
- 6 times as many crop failures in Nepal and Benin, five times as many in Burkina Faso
- Cyclones (not included in this analysis) may not necessarily increase in number but will increase in intensity, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
*Selected findings presented. The vast majority of the 178 countries showed increases from minor to catastrophic across droughts, floods, fires and heatwaves. Note cyclones were not included in this analysis, please see notes to editors. The full findings have been published in the Science journal today.
Current climate pledges will see warming of somewhere between 2.6 and 3.1°C, which will drive serious and more frequent weather events affecting billions, particularly children in low- and middle-income countries.
Erin Ryan, report author and Save the Children’s Pacific Policy and Advocacy Advisor said:
“The picture this report is painting is a dark one. The life and prospects of a child born today look dramatically, irreversibly different to their parents and grandparents. They are poised to flee more fires, and face food shortages, floods and rolling, relentless heatwaves around the world.
“This is a child rights emergency of the highest order. The evidence can’t be any clearer that if nations do not work together to put children at the centre of their climate strategies and take urgent action to limit warming to that crucial 1.5°C point, millions will be at risk of serious harm.
“This is not a future problem. Ask the millions of Australian children who watched 17 million hectares of our country burn in 2020, or kids in the Pacific who have already lost their homes to catastrophic cyclones, and they will tell you: the climate emergency is already upon us. For babies born today, the outlook is even more frightening. We cannot continue on our current trajectory.
“We are in the fight of our lives and it’s time for the Australian Government to throw everything it can at keeping warming to 1.5°C. Not in 30 years, right now.”
As the UN’s pre-COP26 Youth Summit commences today in Milan, ahead of the all-important COP26 in Glasgow in November, children from around the world are convening to make an urgent plea to governments to do all they can to slow global warming.
Ella, 14, is Australia’s Youth Delegate for the conference. She echoes Save the Children’s call to ensure children always have a seat at the table for climate change discussions and policy making.
“While adults in power ignore the issue, it is young people who have to take action. We are rallying to make a point that this isn't something we can delay action on. I feel proud to be one of many young people around the world who are fighting for justice hand-in-hand. But we shouldn't have to be doing this. We shouldn't have the responsibility of the future of the world on our shoulders. It is key that our leaders hear and listen to us, because we have the most to lose from this crisis.”
Ms Ryan concluded: “It is imperative that children are present at this critical juncture - not as inspiration, but as rights-holders, as the most acutely-affected, and as agents of urgent, necessary, and transformative change.”
Save the Children recommends the Australian Government:
- Take ambitious and urgent action now to limit warming to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, including by rapidly phasing out the use and subsidy of fossil fuels.
- Increase commitments to climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation in recognition that the climate crisis is a child rights issue that affects children first and worst. This includes fulfilling the unmet pledge to mobilise at least $100 billion annually, with at least 50% contributing to adaptation measures that support poorer countries in managing the unavoidable impacts of climate change and pursuing clean development pathways.
- Recognise children as equal stakeholders and key agents of change - in addressing the climate and environmental crisis, including by establishing child-friendly mechanisms and platforms to facilitate children’s formal engagement in climate policy making.
- Scale up social protection systems to address the increasing impacts of climate shocks on children and their families, with the ambition to move to universal child benefits over time as a way to improve child well-being and build resilience.
Notes to editors
About the research
Climate scientists, led by researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, used five sources of data: newly-generated simulations of climate impacts across six extreme event categories; the United Nations World Population Prospects; global mean temperature scenarios compiled in support of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ◦C; population reconstructions and projections; and country-scale cohort size data provided by the Wittgenstein Centre’s Human Capital Data Explorer.
The research calculates the exposure of an average person to climate impacts across their lifetime in 178 countries, 11 regions and the globe, then compares different age groups to calculate conservative estimates of lifetime extreme event occurrence because of climate change, while controlling for changes in life expectancy.
A note on tropical cyclones
Cyclones were not included in this report because the research focused on the increasing incidence of climate-related extremes. Data shows that while the number of cyclones per year is unlikely to increase, the intensity of cyclones will.
As temperatures increase, the conditions will become ripe for the formation of stronger cyclones. In future years, the region will see more and more cyclones like Winston and Yasa in the Pacific and typhoons like Haiyan and Goni in the Philippines. All of which have caused widespread destruction and loss of life.
At any scale, cyclones can raze schools and telecommunications infrastructure, leaving children with prolonged gaps in their learning. They can destroy crops and undermine nutrition, such as 2015’s Cyclone Pam which levelled over 90 per cent of Vanuatu’s crops and left children reliant on nutrient-poor food aid. And they are leading to ever-increasing displacement, with, for example over 700,000 children affected by Super Typhoon Goni wracked the Philippines in November last year.